Even after almost 18 years years, Xbox 360 remains one of the most beloved gaming consoles of all time. It’s the system that affirmed Microsoft’s place in a seemingly impenetrable console market next to powerhouses Sony and Nintendo, thanks in part to its vast, genre-spanning library of unforgettable games.
Finalized in 2015, this list was created by current and former IGN editors alike, including Ryan McCaffrey and Miranda Sanchez, two current hosts of IGN’s Xbox podcast, Podcast Unlocked. The selection committee took into account each game’s longevity, influence, innovation, and above all, how much fun it was to play.
Xbox 360 was home to some of the all-time best shooters, RPGs, indies, platformers, and adventures. Narrowing down this list was nearly impossible, but after plenty of good-natured debate, here it is: the 25 best Xbox 360 games of all time.
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25. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park role-playing game isn’t so much a fantastic licensed title as much as it is Season 18 of the long-running satirical TV series all by itself. The 12-14-hour South Park: The Stick of Truth takes both inspiration in its creators’ favorite video game genre as well as sheer glee in mocking all of its tropes and conventions – all with a decidedly South Park bent that will have you laughing longer and harder at its outrageous, genuinely funny storyline. By the end of the adventure, it’s clear that no other South Park video game should ever be made without heavy, direct involvement from Stone and Parker. Between television, film, theater, and now video games, is there an entertainment medium they aren’t hilarious in?
Before realizing the depths of Fez, the outward-facing appeal was its simple yet powerful gameplay hook. The world, which exists in 3D but presents itself in 2D, can be rotated 90 degrees with each pull of the triggers. It disrupts your understanding of perspective by creating opportunity in the way the world has changed. What you see is what you get, so regardless of the physical logic of a space, its visual appearance makes it easy to understand where you can go and how you can get there. Its reverence for video games, the lovely soundtrack, hilarious inside jokes, and mysterious wonder are the claws that dig Fez’s hooks in deep. Mind-bending puzzles, insane alien languages, and risk-free exploration make Fez’s delightful, nostalgic world a joy to wander. It borrows liberally from many things, but Fez is still unlike anything else on Xbox 360.
Mojang’s out-of-nowhere PC masterpiece found much more success on Xbox 360 than most anyone anticipated. Its spacial limitations, in addition to a new developer in 4J Studios, meant it wasn’t even the same Mojang game. Yet Minecraft on consoles works because of those things. 4J has been vigilant about not only trying to achieve feature parity with its PC game counterpart, but giving Minecraft on Xbox 360 unique content that console gamers can really relate to. Character skins and regular free updates fill the void left by the absence of mods, and not in a “good enough” way, either. Local co-op allows for instant creativity as you and yours build a unique world from scratch, using harvested materials and collaborative teamwork. Minecraft’s greatest success is its commitment to not living as a half-baked imposter. This is the real deal, and it continues to impress its ever expanding Xbox 360 audience with killer content updates.
See our guide on how to play Minecraft for free on modern devices.
22. Gears of War 3
It’s hard enough to build a successful new franchise, but creating one that becomes a key pillar for an entire console platform? So many planets have to align: releasing at the right time in a system’s lifecycle, marketing it well, crafting likeable characters, and – oh yeah – designing an incredible game helps. Gears of War pulled off the miracle, and Gears of War 3 is the pinnacle of the series to-date. Epic storyline with genuinely emotional moments? Check. Huge battles and set-pieces? Yep. Polished multiplayer with dedicated servers? Mmm-hmm. The greatest Horde mode on the planet? Damn straight. The brand-new Beast mode that puts a clever reversal on Horde? Absolutely. Oh, and four-player cooperative campaign play too. Outside of The Orange Box and the Mass Effect Trilogy, Gears of War 3 is arguably the best overall package in the history of Xbox 360.
21. Forza Motorsport 4
Car porn. That’s what developer Turn 10 Studios shamelessly advertised Forza Motorsport 4 to be, and that, gloriously, is what it is. The Xbox’s answer to Gran Turismo might not look quite as stunning as Sony’s signature racer (though it does look outstanding), but it’s decidedly more playable and packed with many more user-friendly features.
First, the cars themselves: a select handful are viewable inside and out in Autovista mode, and the rest are fully modeled so that you can drive from cockpit or traditional external camera views. And the rides themselves vary wildly – everything from electric cars (Tesla Roadster) to pop-culture superstars (DeLorean DMC-12) to every flavor of supercar in-between. Outside of the races, you’ve got challenges to issue to and receive from other players, a robust multiplayer suite, car customizations out the tailpipe (including the return of the user-generated content farm known as the Auction House), and more. It is the ultimate racing game for gearheads on 360.
20. Rayman Legends
If you could distill feelings into physical form, Rayman Legends would be bottled joy. Its imaginative level designs -- which challenge you to think about 2D spaces in a more serious way than ever -- play into new gameplay systems that improve on Rayman Origins’ perfected, traditional approach. Plus, a huge amount of Origins’ amazing levels are included in Legends. The addition of Murfy, a secondary character any local co-op player can control with the tap of a button, turns precision platforming into a more complex, timing- and skill-based exercise.
19. Shadow Complex
The Metroid School of Design teaches philosophies that many games have abandoned in recent years, but Shadow Complex’s politically driven thriller story uses it magnificently. Backtracking with new skills to open new areas allows players to discover darker secrets about a shady organizations true intentions. Its twin-stick shooting and varied player abilities create intense, awesome scenarios where speed, platforming, and twitch reaction is essential to surviving small encounters or huge boss battles. Shadow Complex is the closest thing we have to a traditional Metroid game, and it has plenty of unique style to call its own. This was a defining Xbox Live Arcade Release at the time, and it remains an essential, unforgettable Xbox 360 game.
18. The Walking Dead: The Game
Emotion has been the holy grail of video games since the dawn of the medium. Making the player genuinely affected by his or her actions on the screen is as rare as it is powerful. Telltale’s five-episode, adventure-game season of The Walking Dead – made in partnership with Robert Kirkman – swings an emotional hammer, and it will hit you squarely in the face. As convicted felon Lee, you must protect orphaned young girl Clementine as the two of you try to simply survive and endure the horrors of a post-zombie world. You must experience this horror game. You must.
17. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Before killing off major characters became the new hotness, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare shot you in the face and irradiated you with nuclear explosions. Its terrific campaign marked the start of what is now Call of Duty’s signature style: big set pieces, tons of action, and excellently paced, varied single-player missions. Plus, All Ghillied Up remains one of the best FPS levels ever created. Modern Warfare’s multiplayer was the first big console shooter to give Halo a run for its money, and the excellent maps, perks, and loadout system laid the groundwork for every Call of Duty game (and countless other shooters) to come.
16. Mark of the Ninja
Klei’s stealth game proved that the satisfaction and complexity of classic, Splinter Cell-style hardcore stealth could be equally effective in 2D. The agile hero’s ability to navigate intricate spaces, use various tools to lure enemies, hide, and traverse made Mark of the Ninja an absolute joy to play. Its sharp controls, gorgeous art, and demanding difficulty went a long way, too. This is expert-level, AAA quality in small-scale, independent form. Mark of the Ninja’s options for lethal/non-lethal/evasive tactics, when put into the context of its exceptional level designs, makes for one of the most memorable downloadable games to hit the platform.
Limbo, the masterful, monochromatic puzzle game from Playdead, defies nearly every norm established by the generations preceding it, and certainly the games that influenced it. The grim tone, moody story, and surprising level of violence against children make for an uncomfortable yet fascinating world filled with mysterious secrets. Its complex, thoughtful puzzles, which rely on physics, timing, and the utter destruction of your expectations, are some of the most memorable in the medium. Its nebulous ending is the perfect punctuation for Limbo’s hypnotic, unforgettable, must-play adventure.
14. Mirror's Edge
One of the Xbox 360’s boldest games is also among its best and most memorable. Mirror’s Edge is a first-person parkour game where it’s feasible – even encouraged – to finish it without ever pulling the trigger on a gun. It is staunch in both its dedication to its player perspective and its art direction. Mirror’s Edge’s near-future Big Brother-governed metropolis is given life by its near-exclusive use of primary colors. The whites, reds, blues, greens, and yellows are as much gameplay clues as they are design choices; they serve a purpose, and in the end Mirror’s Edge is every bit as bold and beautiful today as it was when it first released in 2008.
13. Dark Souls
Dark Souls makes you hate Dark Souls, and then all video games, and then yourself for a while. But a few hours in that hate turns to love, and you realize something: Dark Souls is one of those rare games that actually asks you to do learn, commit, and fail along the way. Its huge, beautiful world teems with secrets and hidden paths. Its bosses are challenging and unique. The way it turns players into friends or foes is clever, intricate, and a conduit for experiences you can’t get anywhere else. Dark Souls will frustrate you, and you may cry, but if you stick with it you’ll see why its rabid following upholds it as one of the greatest games ever made.
12. Halo 4
2012’s return of Master Chief belongs on the list because it represents everything the Xbox 360 is all about: powerhouse graphics (seriously, this game is wow-inducing and light years prettier than Halo 3), brilliant audio (sound design in particular is top-notch), incredible first-person shooter gameplay (the weapons feel fantastic), unmatched online play and functionality, and, yes, exclusivity. Master Chief is our guy, and his five-year absence only made our hearts grow fonder by the time Halo 4 came around. That 343 Industries did such a phenomenal job taking over for Bungie here makes us still hopeful for the future of the Halo series.
11. Batman: Arkham City
It turns out Batman can be great in a video game. And this sequel to the eye-opening Arkham Asylum builds on its predecessor in every way. It’s a big and beautiful open-world Gotham City – or at least a significant chunk of it – and myriad challenges, quests, and secrets are hiding throughout Batman: Arkham City's playground. Navigation is a key to Arkham’s success, with the grappling hook and glide ability allowing you to quickly get wherever you want to go and feel like the Caped Crusader while doing it. Better than this is Batman’s combat, a tactile and rhythmic system that’s so good it’s been aped by numerous games since. Throw in longtime Batman: The Animated Series voice actors Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) and you’ve got one of the best expressions of Batman in any medium – ever. The Batman Arkham games are the best around.
Ken Levine and Irrational Games’ horror-tinged first-person shooter is one of the Xbox’s best examples of escapism. The undersea utopia-gone-wrong called Rapture seems like a real place you’re visiting, not like science fiction. From the New Year’s Eve banners to the records scattered about, it feels lived-in – and you know something terrible happened there. BioShock is a spiritual successor to Levine’s own System Shock 2, and it evolves many of that PC classic’s best features. Plasmids grant you supernatural abilities, while a lone, godlike antagonist taunts you all along the way. Would you kindly make sure to play this game, start to finish?
9. Rock Band 3
When you play Rock Band, you are literally playing Rock Band. You’re pretending, except you’re not. It is an experience unlike any other video game you have ever played or, perhaps, will ever play. When you jam with three (or more) friends, there’s a tangible energy that you’re feeding off of. It’s a dynamic no other multiplayer game conveys, and it’s all done through a medium that everyone can relate to: music. Rock Band 3 is the last and most fully featured iteration of the idea, and, of course, it also includes the keyboard instrument. Couple that with literally thousands of downloadable songs in the Rock Band Music Store and you will genuinely never get bored.
8. Fallout 3
Though it follows many of the same fundamental templates that fellow Bethesda Game Studios sandbox RPG series The Elder Scrolls does, the post-apocalyptic Fallout 3 nevertheless manages to forge its own unique path. Its darkly comic tone, rich and surprising NPC sidequests, and gripping V.A.T.S. targeting system – that lets you precision-target specific body parts on your enemies and hit them with…explosive results – set it apart from its medieval fantasy cousin franchise. It might not be quite the content behemoth that Elder Scrolls is, but you can easily spend 40-80 hours roaming the nuked Capital Wasteland countryside. Don’t forget to find all the bobbleheads!
7. Red Dead Redemption
Video games tend to drive players toward narrow-minded goals, but Red Dead Redemption balances violence and narrative with a delicate care that few other games can compare to. Anti-hero John Marston’s tale isn’t violent because he’s angry, careless, or vengeful. He is a product of the turn-of-the-century West trying to escape his outlaw past. The mission design is believable while hitting the highest of Spaghetti Western notes, both in and out of combat. The careful pace keeps us enthralled by the gorgeous settings, while the addictive freedom to exploring a vast open world yields secrets, scenery, and side-quests well worth seeking out. Plus, Red Dead Redemption retains Rockstar’s signature dark humor, lending levity to a miserable world we’re not likely to forget, and features one of the largest multiplayer suites in any Xbox 360 title. Nowadays, you can play Red Dead Redemption 2, but the original is still excellent.
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
You won’t find a better “massively single-player offline role-playing game” than the Elder Scrolls games…except perhaps Fallout 3, from the very same developer, Bethesda Game Studios. This is open-world fantasy writ large, complete with swords, shields, dragons, forests, and everything else you’ve ever wanted in a medieval fantasy RPG. Ranged, melee, and magic combat have all been honed to feel much more impactful over previous Elder Scrolls games, and the visuals have been turned up to a level you probably couldn’t have imagined when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005. The average – average – player spends 80 hours in Skyrim. And it’s time you’ll never regret in one of the best open world games of all time.
5. The Orange Box
Only the #1 game on our list supersedes The Orange Box in terms of sheer value proposition, and even that is debatable. Valve’s color-monikered compilation packs one of the best first-person shooters of all time in Half-Life 2, both of its stellar episodic add-ons, class-based multiplayer powerhouse Team Fortress 2, and the wildly inventive Portal – a game so good and original that many called it the Game of the Year purely on its own, separate from the rest of the Orange Box package. Good luck getting all 99 Achievements!
4. Portal 2
Never has smarter gameplay wed smarter humor. Portal 2 is the seed of a good idea (the original, student-project-based Portal) blossomed into its fullest potential. It’s a dark comedy masquerading as a puzzle game, with intelligent tasks that will test you but rarely, if ever, frustrate you. It’s minimalist, but makes every line of dialogue pack a witty punch. You simply must play to the end, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice to skip the included two-player cooperative campaign as well. It’s not two-player Portal 2, it’s cooperative Portal 2 – complete with its own compelling storyline.
3. Halo 3
After Halo 2’s cliffhanger ending, all we wanted to do was finish the fight. Halo 3 let us do that in splendid fashion. As the first Xbox 360 Halo game, it stunned us with beautiful graphics, great sound design (especially with its weapons), and fluid first-person shooting across a wonderful campaign featuring Master Chief and his new ally, the Arbiter. Not to mention it offered one of the best multiplayer suites we’ve ever seen in a shooter. With great maps, strong DLC support, and the introduction of the excellent map-creator mode, Forge, Bungie’s success on that front is still unmatched by most of its rivals, even today. If you're planning on playing the Halo series in order, don't skip this one.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar’s most recent magnum opus is pointed proof that video game makers are capable of incredible things when you give the very best of them virtually unlimited time and resources to fulfill their creative vision. GTA 5 goes so far beyond where 99% – if not 100% – of all other games would stop that it’s a triumph both for gamers and for the medium itself, and it deserves its runaway success. Los Santos – and greater San Andreas – is truly a living place where almost anything is possible. Everything from flying a passenger jetliner from one side of the world to the other to playing a damn good golf game is possible. Moreover, the open-world mayhem of GTA Online further widens the gap between Grand Theft Auto and nearly everything else.
While we wait for GTA 6 to arrive, check out our guide to all of the GTA games in order.
1. Mass Effect Trilogy
Are we cheating here? Yeah, sort of. But not really. The fact is, you can buy all three Mass Effect parts in a single box, and if you’re just picking up an Xbox 360, there simply isn’t anything else you should buy first. This trilogy is a lot of things, but most of all, it’s special. You will create your Commander Shepard, and over the course of around 100 hours, you will make decisions, build relationships, and go on galaxy-spanning adventures that, above all else, you’ll remember. Each game is very different, yet absolutely part of the same series. Everyone has a different favorite among the three games, but you’re sure to come away from it at the end with your own lasting impression. BioWare set out to make a “space opera,” and they actually did it.
Those coming to this list in 2023 can now experience a much-upgraded version of the trilogy with Mass Effect Legendary Edition.
And there you have it! Your personal list might look different than ours, but there's no denying that the 25 games listed above will provide anyone with a truly incredible amount of entertainment.
For more on the best of Xbox, be sure to check out our more recent lists of the Best Xbox Series X Games and the Best Xbox One Games.
Final game updates were made on September 11, 2015.